One thing I'm asked fairly regularly is the following: What can I do to improve in Arena? My usual response is a slew of questions. First, how much resilience do you have? I've spoken about this in past articles, so I won't harp on about it here. The second question is simply do you practice? Again, as I've mentioned, practice makes perfect. That is really the most important thing you can do to make yourself a better player in the Arena, so take every opportunity. Even on my healers, I generally fly around on my non-PvP realm with PvP switched on. I'm not going to be able to kill anyone of my own level, but I might get some practice surviving!
But this week I'm looking to be a little more specific for you, and we're going to talk about some skills or gameplay styles or whatever you'd prefer to call them. If you can incorporate them into your gameplay, chances are you'll improve in Arena. Obviously, in order to incorporate them, what are you going to need to do? Practice, of course!
So, what first? Let's talk movement. Movement in PvP is much more subjective and situational than in PvE. It's not just a case of getting out of bad; positioning and movement can win and lose battles. If you're being chopped up by a paladin with a big sword, you want to be moving away; if you're being zapped by casters, you want to do your best to be using line of sight to your advantage.
I like the way you move
But my main interest in movement for today is how you move. I'm talking, firstly, about strafing. Now, some players do this all the time as part of their usual modes of travel, but some others never do it, and those guys are missing out.
Why should you bother? Well, if you're a caster, you can cast your instant spells on the run. As an example, on my restoration shaman, if I'm being chased around by a DK, I'll strafe away and put a Frost Shock on them as I'm running. If I just run away in a straight line, sure, I can pop an Earthbind Totem down, but that is very positional, and only binds for a short time, whereas Frost Shock is a slow I can keep up constantly, notwithstanding Anti-Magic Shell or Hand of Freedom. If I'm strafing, they can remain slowed, as I can cast into people who are (effectively) behind me. But why can't you backpedal? Well, it's slow. Really slow. And slow is not ideal as far as PvP goes! Sure, there are moments when a few backward steps are helpful (I'll talk about one later), but it's not something to use all the time.
It should be noted that certain instant spells such as DOTs that don't have a facing requirement don't need a player to be strafing to apply them.
Furthermore, if you've being chased by a rogue or a feral druid, who get better results from attacking from behind, with a bit of work on angles, you can keep your back away from them by strafing without the movement speed decrease from backpedaling. Try this in duels -- it's certainly not a fail-safe method for avoiding the backstabbing little blighters, but it can definitely help. If you are a rogue or a feral druid, you can strafe in merry circles following your target's backside.
On the topic of being attacked from behind, don't just stand there and take it! If you're being tunneled by them and can't get away for some reason, try your best to stymie their rotation by moving like someone who drank too much coffee!
My God, I've bitten through my tongue trying to avoid innuendo in this section!
Lastly, a brief note on the physical aspect of movement. The vast majority of PvP players have their strafes bound to A and D but do all their other movement with their mouse. I'm definitely not saying this is the hard and fast answer; I have my strafe keys bound to side buttons 1 and 2 on my mouse, and that works just fine for me, so I'd be a massive hypocrite to suggest you must blindly follow the crowd!
But apart from strafing, mouse movement is king. You can mouse run and turn with a strafe key held down, allowing you to fine-tune your movement far more than you ever will with just a keyboard, unless you have remarkable contortionist hands! Mouse running is more fluid and faster in the turns, and it leads me nicely onto my next point.
Binding is key
So let's assume you're mouse running. What's your left hand up to? Why, it's using all your keybinds!
Why should you keybind rather than clicking? Well, it's a speed thing again. If you're clicking your abilities on the screen, the time you spend moving your mouse is what's slowing you down. And, if you're clicking, chances are you're moving with your keyboard, and that, too, is slower. Try turning through 360 degrees with your keyboard, and then try it with your mouse. See?
There are some good PvPers I know who swear blind that their clicking and keyboard turning is just fine, but I really struggle to believe them. As an exercise, try typing a simple sentence on your keyboard, then try the same clicking a virtual keyboard. Sure, in WoW you have the global cooldown to get your mouse to the next ability, but what about abilities that are off the global cooldown? What about those all-too-regular instances where you have to rapidly change your mind about the next key you're going to press? If you're keybinding, yes, you still have to hit that other key, but I'm convinced it's still faster to do that than moving a mouse on a screen.
The conversion, however, is a big deal. This is far harder than simply adding strafing into your movement skills; it's pretty much a complete reworking of how you play.
Start off with getting your most-used abilities keybound -- the abilities you spam, the ones you use all the time. Work them into good places under your left hand. Don't make your life harder than it needs to be by putting a spam ability way out of reach. Use keys like Q, E, and F on a standard QWERTY keyboard. Don't forget modifiers -- Ctrl, Shift, Alt. My predecessor here at Blood Sport wrote an article on keybindings which I think still has a lot to say for someone trying to set up keybinds for the first time.
For learning keybinds, a friend has a sheet with her keybinds written out on it. I use addons to modify my bars so the letter the ability is bound to is big enough that I can read it.
And for those of you who are thinking "Ha! I already keybound everything! I rock!", have a look at your keybinds. Are they logical? Are abilities you should or could be using not getting as much air time as they should be due to keybinds? Could you do some slight reshuffling and improve things? I look at my keybinds fairly regularly and have conventions across characters to help myself develop the muscle memory you need to make keybinds instinctive.
Put another dime in the jukebox ...
Lastly, one of the harder abilities to learn. Casters, this one is for you -- I'm allowing melee to lay claim to the movement one, but you should definitely still bear it in mind.
The skill in question is, of course, juking. What is juking? It's also referred to as fake casting, which is a better descriptive term but nowhere near as compact! Essentially, what you're going to be trying to do is get your opponents to waste their interrupts and therefore their lockouts on a cast that you began with no intention of finishing.
Now, a brief aside. If you have two schools of magic available to you, and one is not the main one you use, you may be in luck. For example, again on a restoration shaman, all the heals are nature spells, such as Greater Healing Wave. If I got interrupted casting one of those, I'd be locked out of all my heals, Hex, and even Lightning Bolt. Equally, if I got interrupted casting Hex or Lightning Bolt, I'd be locked out of all my heals. Bad times.
However, if I managed to coax an opponent into interrupting Lava Burst, I'd only be locked out of the fire school. This school includes absolutely none of my key abilities, so a Lava Burst interrupted on a resto shaman is essentially an interrupt wasted. Alas, other people are often wise to this, and let me Lava Burst freely.
So, back to juking. How do you do it? Well, start a cast. I tend to go for longer casts with easily recognizable names -- Heal, for example! An opponent will easily recognize this is, well, a heal, and try to interrupt it. But you're going to do that an instant before they do. How? Well, here's an instance when backpedaling might be handy! I tend to jump. Others will have a /stopcasting macro.
How do you know when they're going to interrupt? That's the tricky bit! A good tactic is to try some juking early on or when the casts aren't super-vital. See when the interrupters tend to cast their interrupts. A good start is to interrupt the cast at about 50% of its time, and if they don't bite, move to 75%. Of course, if they're still not interrupting you, you'll have to start actually using your casts eventually!
I'm not going to pretend this is anything but a really tricky skill. It's not only tricky to learn, it's tricky to remember to use and takes guts to use when it's vital -- for example, when you're at low health and need to cast a heal. If that juke goes wrong, you're in trouble. I understand your plight. It's really hard.
How do you know when an opponent has used an interrupt? Get InterruptBar in your life right now! Other addons will do it too, but I like InterruptBar a lot. And, of course, practice!
Do you want to capture flags, invade cities, attack towers, and dominate the enemy for your faction? Do you dream of riding your War Bear with pride? We'll steer you to victory with secrets of Battlegrounds and Arena, prepping you with proven addons and keybindings that win! Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.